The Royal Albert Hall has officially started its 150th birthday celebrations. Unfortunately, for now, the building remains closed (for the first time since the Second World War), but a hefty roster of exciting artists will be playing in good time.
The magnificent building was originally opened by Queen Victoria on 29 March 1871. It was named in memory of her husband, Prince Albert, who, after organising the Great Exhibition in 1951, had wanted to make arts and culture available to all. And the legacy still very much lives along, even during the time of Corona, with some sparkling star-studded events.
Prince Albert had originally proposed a group of permanent facilities near Exhibition Road known as Albertopolis. However, he died before he was able to see it come to fruition.
So The Royal Albert Hall was created using some of the proceeds from the Great Exhibition. The Hall was designed by civil engineers Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott of the Royal Engineers and built by the leading British building business at the time, the Lucas Brothers.
The impressive dome was designed by English engineer Rowland Mason Ordish and was made of wrought iron and glass. There was a trial assembly of it in Manchester before it was taken apart and transported to London by horse and cart and reassembled.
However, after the first concert it became apparent that the roof had serious acoustic problems. Engineers tried to remove the echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome, but it didn’t do much to help. It wasn’t until the 1960s that they managed to find a solution. Exactly 135 fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the hall, and it worked. However, they’ve since been taken down to just 85.
As it embarks on its next 150 years, I hope that the Royal Albert Hall will continue to thrive, and that many more people will have the opportunity to make their own memories of this wonderful building.
Since then, a whole host of people have played to great acclaim in the hall. From contemporary stars like Adele and Jay Z, to national treasures Dame Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald, to Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. You name it, they’ve been here. Even the royals.
In her introduction to the Hall’s anniversary book, The Queen, pays tribute writing:
“I have been Patron of the Royal Albert Hall since 1953, and my family and I have enjoyed many events including the annual Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance, the Centenary of the Women’s Institute, and even my 92nd Birthday celebration.
“As it embarks on its next 150 years, I hope that the Royal Albert Hall will continue to thrive, and that many more people will have the opportunity to make their own memories of this wonderful building.”
So…. let’s get to the good stuff. What can we expect?
First up, the UK’s most popular contemporary choreographer Matthew Bourne is creating a spectacular new staging of The Car Man, his acclaimed take on Bizet’s smouldering opera, Carmen. All being well, this will run from 17–27 June.
Later in the year, multi award-winning composer and musician, Nitin Sawhney, will curate Journeys – 150 Years of Immigration, a week-long festival running from 29 September to 6 October celebrating the lives and contributions of immigrants over the last 150 years. The season will include a headline show featuring a new piece by Sawhney: a specially-commissioned oratorio for strings and choir.
As well as this, there are headline shows from musical icons and major contemporary artists, including punk poet laureate Patti Smith, electronic musician Jon Hopkins, jazz and soul sensation Gregory Porter, and rapper Tinie Tempah. Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall will also be leading a new mentorship programme for young female artists.
Meanwhile, Oscar-winning composer, Michael Giacchino will create a new piece for the Hall’s famous Henry Willis Organ, which was the biggest instrument in the world when it was played at the opening ceremony in 1871. And American guitarist and songwriter Nile Rodgers, will compose a pop anthem for the anniversary, with a full orchestra and singers.
And a Royal Albert Hall party wouldn’t be a celebration without the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They will present a series of celebratory concerts marking both the venue’s milestone and its own 75th anniversary. The one everyone is talking about is the concert of Bond-themed anthems, including the latest film release No Time To Die, as well as a Superman series.
For the full list, visit the website: www.royalalberthall.com